As announced previously, Jo Malone are preparing to launch a new quatuor of Colognes Intenses this summer from July 2010 which are inspired by the culture of the Middle East but with a dash of British attitude. The Scented Salamander is pleased to bring you a sneak preview.
In the brand's own words, the scents are "Inspired by centuries old Middle Eastern rituals of layering scents, incenses and oils, and the beauty of classic ingredients but with Jo Malone's hallmark simplicity and elegant restraint,"
All four perfumes were created by perfumer Christine Nagel, an award-winning fragrance composer who lives in Paris. Lately there has been a cultural movement towards getting more literal inspiration from the Arabian style of perfumery, a current that can be felt precisely in Paris and I believe in London too where I've seen tours advertised to visit Arabian perfumeries. The upcoming Jo Malone collection meshes with this trend while continuing their own exploration of world perfumeries, an interest they revealed with the very well done Kohdo Wood Collection (see here and here) inspired by the ceremony of incense in Japan...
One way of seeing a meaning to this trend - at least this is the way I experience it myself - is to live it as a subtle take on the Middle Eastern veritable worship of the oud note. The fragrances I own have this hazy oud quality which is very pleasant and still mysterious without feeling washed-out and dumbed-down. It's the difference between being hard-core and soft-core about oud.
I plan to review all four fragrances and randomly picked Rose Water and Vanilla to start with. The blend is said to be the "21st century translation of the traditional Arabian Rose Mokhalat imbued with a modern Jo Malone note." The perfume feels readily traditionally Middle Eastern although I cannot vouch for the set formula of the rose "mokhalat", "mukhalat" or "mukhallat", which may differ in reality. Clearly, a typical signature can be recognized. Agallocha, now Arabia Felix, proposes a traditional description of an accord that they say can be called "mukhalat" in a canonical sense (see Tedallal Woman.) From what I have been able to see, the two related terms "itr" and "attar" are used to designate natural essences as sourced from plants while "mukhalat" refers to blends, but all these terms designate perfume. The Jo Malone Rose Water and Vanilla offers at any rate a twist on the traditional genre.
Cologne Intense Rose Water and Vanilla opens on an incensey, oud-y and leather-y rose with a fresh rose water quality further softened by orange blossom or neroli. It immediately conjures up visions of Arabian silver ewers sprinkling water on the hands of guests to a feast while they hold their hands above basins in which rose petals float. The personality of the scent is realistically Middle Eastern as opposed to being Oriental in a stylized Europeanized sense. The aromatic facets of the scent mimics atmospheres of the Middle Eastern way of life rather than feels like a rose-water -infused Shalimar. You can sometimes catch whiffs of this scented Mauresque leather atmosphere in Oriental stores in Paris.
Very faint green grassy nuances bring the fresh English Jo Malone touch while the rose-orange blossom accord offers watery wet hints which salute the Eau de Cologne spirit of the collection. An almond note becomes more perceptible at this stage and emphasizes subtly the gustatory facet of Rose Water and Vanilla which was hinted at from the very beginning. Now it feels more readily like you are eating rahat lokhoum delicacies reclining on fragrant leather cushions in a traditional Oriental living room while wiping some confectioner's sugar off your hands. Life could definitely feel harsher. Then a spoonful of rose jam is added to your tea glass. Two rounds of servings later, jasmine jam now perfumes your tea.
Instead of taking a fresh turn, the perfume intensifies further giving an impression of macerated spices in rose water. The perfumer could have made the call of offering a fragrance divided into two parts, with more Arabian nuances in the beginning being followed by a fresh Eau de Cologne drydown as so many practical -minded modern scents do, but it is more as if the Cologne reference was kept in the understated watery effect while the story of the scent is told with Arabian motifs.This creates the effect of a lovely spicy rose composition with a hint of camphor and oud and a dash of vanilla meringue. The touch of vanilla is light, more watery than creamy.
The vanilla note relays the rose note creating the texture of a lovely soft, even airy, vanilla drydown - it smells a bit of angelica - offering a winning angel's skin finish, like the scent of butter-soft kid leather gloves dipped in rose water, orange blossom and spices, worn by a cherub sitting on a cloud made of spun sugar with a weakness for rahat lokhoums and dainty Spanish leather gloves from Mauresque Spain.
Cologne Intense Rose Water and Vanilla does not belie its name. It manages to associate the paradoxical idea of intensity with water by keeping the body of the fragrance aqueous thanks to floral notes with accentuated wet tonalities and the ligtness of citruses all the while bringing in intensity thanks to macerated musk, spices, oud, amber and vanilla as if they had been all thrown into a jar of rose water to exhale all their aromas in this delicate environment.
The Cologne Intense lasts a good 3 to 4 hours at a noticeable level, then becomes fainter without lingering on. Despite its standalone complex composition, Rose Water and Vanilla is meant to be layered if you wish to do so.
Photo credits: Jo Malone: The Progress of the Prophet, 16th century Ottoman manuscript